Moving is a tough business! We’ve done it a few times now, and so in theory – that should make it easier as we kind of know what to expect. Only this time, it hasn’t been to a new, unknown country – it’s back to the original ‘home’ in South Africa! Despite my very first memories being formed here; some colourful, some happy, some cringe-worthy, some tragic – I sometimes feel like an alien species encroaching on a strange (or more so, frightfully normal) land and way of life! A life that at one time seemed so familiar, but now one that feels like a puzzle piece being jammed into the wrong puzzle! Or maybe it’s better to say, I feel like a piece in the puzzle, unsure of where I fit.
Where our expat experience comes in handy, is knowing that settling in and feeling truly at home, takes time. At least 3 months, but usually 1 year! I think back to a blog I wrote shortly after moving to Malawi during a time when it felt nothing like home. I so desperately missed Mozambique. I noted that there are 5 things that need to happen for a place to feel like home:
Make some memories (small tick)
Friends (VERY IMPORTANT)
Your furniture (thankfully arrived only 1 ½ months after moving here)
Knowing your way round (Very well)
Make your space your own. (When I have time)
I’ve ticked most of those boxes, but the thing is, it’s different this time. It’s not an expat experience. People have been here for generations. It’s not a case of everyone getting together for a tea or a beer solely to get to know each other in a strange and new land. Here, everyone already knows everyone, well. On top of that, the pace of life in this little farming community is surprisingly fast. I naively believed that with ‘homeschool’ being a thing of the past, I’d be in danger of joining one of those recipe swapping groups, or lunching with the girls regularly; sipping on liqueur coffees and having a laugh. That is not the case here. Homeschool has been substituted with the likes of school runs, work and making ends meet! I look back (fondly) on our life as expats, and I won’t lie, “Damn I miss it!”
“I have learned that if you must leave a place that you have lived in and where all your yesteryears are buried deep, leave it any way except a slow way, leave it the fastest way you can. Never turn back and never believe that an hour you remember is a better hour because it is dead. Passed years seem safe ones, vanquished ones, while the future lives in a cloud, formidable from a distance.” – Beryl Markham
I miss the unpredictability. I miss being in a place full of different nationalities, cultures and races and getting to know them. I miss the adventure of exploring a new country. I miss those moments that forced me to look at my own privileged life and question things.I miss being in a place that I felt I MUST carry a camera at all times, otherwise people might not believe what I saw! I miss the hospitality of new expat friends and most of all, I miss cracking an ice cold beer open at the end of a hot, sweltering day, roasting a piri piri chicken on the weber, then inviting a few friends along for an impromptu evening! I really do miss those days! And I won’t lie…I have my moments when I wonder ‘what on earth have we done?’
But before I become a ‘when-we,’ I must say this…like a tightly budded flower, this place is and will become home – it will open. It’s a lot slower here, in the way of friendship – something I now know is crucial when it comes to feeling ‘at home.’ Function by function, it’s a case of catching a glimpse of something within someone, that you value in a person; be it an outrageous joke, the ability to laugh at oneself, to be interested, to have an open mind or whatever is important to you. It’s about finding your tribe, bit by bit!
Most importantly, it’s about combining your past experience with your present. Which again, is a slow process for me here. Living in the countries we did, opened a whole new world to me. I met the likes of Rudi, who experienced the cruelest of family losses, the ex Rebel fighter who was kidnapped, the old priest who was forced onto a ship and taken to the other side of the world when Mozambique was still a Portuguese Colony and the fishermen in Malawi, with their stories of surviving Crocodile attacks.
In my wildest dreams, I’d love to be packing up a tog bag and my camera kit and venturing into the likes of the Congo, or heading deep into the Ethiopian foothills, or discovering places like Sierre Leone and Senegal. All these crazy ideas and dreams. And I’m not quite sure how on earth I can do that while we live here. But I have to believe that step by step, I can. And my starting point is this little town of Ixopo – that will feel like home soon – but that I must continue from where I left off; of meeting people, being interested and writing about their extraordinary experiences.
“Travel does not exist without home… If we never return to the place we started, we would just be wandering lost. Home is a reflecting surface, a place to measure our growth and enrich us after being infused with outside world.” – Josh Gates